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The Faithful

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The door wouldn’t open. He pulled twice, avoiding the sight of his own face reflected in the glass panes, before it registered that he had a reflection to avoid because the shade was down.

Andrew made a noise of disgusted realization. “Dad. It’s Monday.”

“Monday.” Monday still? Monday again? Who could say?

“They’re shut on Mondays.” Andrew spun around to kick an invisible football towards the end of the street. Then he kicked the curb. His balled hands made lumps in the pockets of his coat. The ends of his school blazer showed under the hem.

“Right.” He tried to picture the shelves of the pantry. “Of course. Should have remembered that.” Andrew’s dark eyes felt like spotlights, or x-rays. “Beans on toast, or fish and chips?”

“Chippie, I suppose.” Andrew kicked the curb again.

You’ll ruin your school shoes. He heard her voice so clearly that he wondered if Andrew heard it as well, but Andrew’s head stayed down. I’m sorry, he thought. Charles might be right. “We’ll go to Carlo’s later in the week.” He put out his hand, as if Andrew were still young enough to take it, then drew it back and thrust it into the pocket of his own coat. “Sorry,” he managed, looking at both their shoes. His own were the ones splitting at the toe.

“I didn’t think of it either,” Andrew answered.

The careless, boyish kindness came dangerously close to stirring something in his chest and behind his eyes; he moved quickly along the pavement as if he could outrun it. “Was. Um. Martin at school today?”

“Yeah. He’s not as good at conkers as Rex was, but it’s all right playing with him.”

“Andrew! Mr. Foyle!” Tony pounded down the street after them, wearing only a scarf over his school pullover. “My father says, if you don’t mind something simple, come in and eat with us. We’re about to sit down.”

“No, no. We’ll be back tomorrow. You must be freezing, go back inside.” The words felt ponderous, like lines read by a bad amateur actor, but he could not seem to lighten them.

Tony shook his head, bouncing in place to keep himself warm. “There’s plenty, Mr. Foyle, really, and I want to show Andrew a new game… please won’t you come in?”

“Please, Dad?” Andrew caught at his sleeve, face brightening in a way he’d almost forgotten.

“Thank your father, Tony, and go in. We’ll be right behind you.”

The warmth of the kitchen struck him first, then the warmth of the colors in it: the brilliant copper pots, the gleaming black stove, the bunches of dried herbs, the clear bottles of oil, the ruby-colored glass around a candle burning before an icon of Mary in a corner. I must tell Rosalind, he thought, imagining her pleasure in the rosy light on the shining surfaces, and again the memory pierced him like a knife, all the sharper for the instant of relief before it.

“Christopher, sit here,” Carlo urged him. “Tony, take their things. It is only soup and bread, but very good, I promise.”

“I’m sure,” he answered, after too long a pause. Andrew frowned at him; he shook his head in return and took off his hat to hand it to Tony.

“Thank you, Mr. Lucciano,” Andrew said, with his best company smile. “It’s awfully nice of you to have us. I really didn’t want fish and chips again.”

“Of course, of course. Andrew, you sit here, by your father. I will get two more bowls.”

As soon as they sat down Carlo and Tony made the sign of the cross. “Agimus tibi gratias…” They spoke a blur of Latin, quick but in perfect unison. There was an amen, but then they began again. “Fidelium animae, mamma Alessa…” Tony started to go on, but Carlo looked at him, saying “et,” in a meaningful way. “Mamma Alessa et Signora Foyle,” they said, together, “per misericordiam Dei, requiescant in pace. Amen.”

“Amen,” he whispered, bending his head lower.

“Amen,” Andrew echoed, a moment later.

“This we call pasta e fagioli, pasta and beans.” Carlo ladled a generous portion of bright orange soup, thick with white beans and small tubes of macaroni, into a heavy white bowl.

“That’s too much for me. Andrew…” he tried to pass it on, but Carlo stopped him.

“Eat what you can. It is all right.” Carlo filled a bowl for Andrew, then two more for Tony and himself. Beside the soup pot there was a basket of bread, and a dish of olive oil that Tony and Carlo seemed to use in place of butter. “Andrew, you are looking forward to the football in the spring?”

Relieved of the burden of conversation, he slowly raised his spoon. He was not sure his tight throat would let him swallow, but the hot soup went down smoothly, making a gentle warm trail to his stomach. He had not noticed how cold he had been.

When they had emptied their bowls the boys clumped away up the stairs, and Carlo brought out a half-full bottle of wine. “How are you?” he asked, as he poured.

“Fine. Thank you.”

“Have pity on a simple man, Christopher. Is that ‘it is easier not to speak of it’ or ‘do you really want to know?’ or ‘leave me alone, nosy eye-talian’?”

He tried to smile at Carlo’s imitation of a rough London accent, but his face felt like stone, if stone could ache.

“When we lost Alessa, I thought I would die as well.” Carlo went quiet. “And then I was afraid I wouldn’t.”

He shoved his chair back from the table and turned away.

“Christopher.”

“I can’t… think.” The confession lurched out of him.

Carlo snorted. “You English. It is not three weeks since you buried your heart in the cold church yard and you wonder that you cannot think?”

He was able to smile at that, though he had to look hard at the bunches of herbs hanging from the ceiling to keep the movement from squeezing water out of his eyes.

“Christopher,” Carlo said again.

“My… her brother,” he said. “And his wife. Want to have Andrew to stay with them. For the spring.” It was a triumph and an infuriation how clearly, how dispassionately, the words dropped into the warm kitchen, when they described something so terrible he could not bring his mind to bear on it.

“Ah?”

“It might. Be best.” He swallowed painfully. “For him.” Silence. “To have a change.”

“It might be that he has had enough change. More than enough,” Carlo said. “You both have.” Carlo’s hand settled on his arm. “What do you want?”

“What does that matter?” The voice - raw and choking - did not seem his own.

“To Mrs. Foyle, it mattered very much.”

“And what,” he spat, “does that matter, when she...” He drew in on himself, around the hollow not-pain under his ribs, but Carlo’s hand stayed where it was.

“Left you,” Carlo finished gently.

He gasped. It felt like lancing a boil: the searing sensation, and then the relief, and the knowledge that the hurt would well up again in a moment, if not as sharply. He shook his head. “She didn’t, I know, it…”

“She is gone and you are alone and if you are angry, there is no law against it, Detective Inspector.”

“Andrew,” he started, and couldn’t remember how he meant to go on.

“He is a fine boy,” Carlo said. “Maybe a little hungry. How much fish and chips have the two of you been eating?”

That made him laugh, hoarsely and awkwardly, and then put a hand over his eyes. Carlo had been at the funeral. A Catholic, in a Protestant church; he’d have had to confess it, and do penance. Was it also considered a sin to make a grieving man laugh? Carlo wouldn’t balk, if it were. “Too much,” he agreed. “And too much beans on toast.”

“Get up,” Carlo said briskly. “Take off your jacket and turn up your sleeves. You do not need to think to make soup.”

It astonished him to find that Carlo was right; he could chop and stir and even recite back the ingredients and steps as Carlo taught them.   Andrew and Tony came tromping down again demanding more bread and the use of the kitchen table to lay out Tony’s new game, sent by a cousin in America. Carlo shooed them into the restaurant, but left the door open so the sound of their chatter drifted back into the kitchen.

His eyes smarted - perhaps from the onions - as he rinsed the cutting board and then joined Carlo by the stove again.

“We are lucky, Christopher,” Carlo said quietly, stirring the soup. “We have our health, and our work. We have our boys. It is not easy, no, but we survive.”

He stared into the pot. “How?”

“Breath by breath. And with our friends.” Carlo dipped up a spoonful of broth, and held it out, and Christopher found it did not hurt to smile as he reached to take it.

 

FIN